Jan. 31 , 2020
s Ireland prepares for its upcoming general election it looks like, for once, something interesting could actually happen. With the country’s two leading parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, traditionally offering variations of right and centre-right, it can be difficult to expect any radical change in national politics. But recent polls suggest a leftward surge in support for Sinn Féin, particularly among young and progressive voters – something that would have seemed unimaginable a decade ago.
Ireland in recent years has successfully projected an image of prosperity and social liberalism. The taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, is a gay, mixed-race man who light-heartedly compares colourful socks with Justin Trudeau and has been spotted backstage at LCD Soundsystem and Kylie Minogue gigs. His party ushered in two high-profile referendums that saw gay marriage and access to abortion legalised. Varadkar has also been widely praised for putting in a strong performance with regard to Brexit.
Fine Gael has dominated Irish political life for almost 10 years, entering government in 2011 in coalition with Labour, and then again in 2016 with the support of Fianna Fáil and independents. It claims credit for the Irish economy’s recovery since the 2008 financial crash, and its subsequent prosperity, with unemployment at just 4.8%. But recent polls see Fine Gael falling behind on 23%, with Fianna Fáil in a steady lead at 26% and Sinn Féin a close third, enjoying an eight-point surge to 19%, with support particularly strong among under-35s.
So why would voters turn against a party with a seemingly stellar record, potentially to favour a party whose historic links to the IRA make it an unpalatable proposition to many older voters?